Picture this: you're walking down a street in a completely normal and non-disruptive fashion, and all of a sudden, someone walking from the opposite direction bumps into you. What would be your immediate response? If you're thinking that you would frantically respond with "I'm sorry," then you most likely have the sorry syndrome.
The over-apologizers of the world always feel like they're doing something wrong in one way or another. But why is it exactly that we feel that way?
A lot of us, and this is especially true for women, grow up with impossibly high standards to reach. We carry a belief that if we're not doing exactly what we're told at the right time and the right place, we're doing it wrong. That kind of logic is what leads to the constant need of justifying and apologizing: sorry I bumped into you; sorry I didn't close the door; sorry for coughing; sorry for looking terrible today. There's a sense of self-consciousness flowing behind these apologies. In attempting to break this habit, we are also working on our self-acceptance, and being comfortable with the idea that it is impossible to please everyone.
But, say you've worked on your self-acceptance and confidence, but you still find yourself constantly feeling the need to apologize, how would break the habit then?
Say thank you.
Firstly, let's differentiate between sorry and thank you. An apology is about the apologizer and what they did wrong. A thank you, on the other hand, is a form of acknowledgment to the other person. When we apologize, we're making the situation about us, when it doesn't have to be. Rather than apologizing for a trivial mistake, thank the other person for doing something right. "Sorry I'm late" for example, could be "thank you for waiting for me." "Sorry to burden you with this," could be "thank you for listening." This way, we are celebrating the other person rather than filling ourselves with a sense of guilt and pity by apologizing.
There's also a great sense of empowerment in replacing the word sorry. By breaking the habit of chronic apologizing, you are allowing yourself to take up space. As aforementioned, over-apologizers tend to feel like they don't have the right to be where they are. When, in reality, they are perfectly deserving to be in the position that they're in and don't need to apologize for it.
Swapping these words also affects its recipient as much as it's affecting you. Say you're out with a friend who seems to be particularly upset or in a bad mood. Instead of saying "sorry if I put you in a bad mood" or "sorry if this isn't what you wanted to do tonight," you can say "thank you for being here," and so on. In thanking them, you're acknowledging them for what they're doing. By apologizing, however, you're adding guilt to that person and making the situation about yourself.
It's important to note that the majority of people that over-apologize don't have self-involved intentions in saying sorry. In fact, most of them do genuinely feel guilty and want the other person to feel better. But, it's important for all of us to understand the implications of being sorry and know when it's appropriate to use.